PREP BASKETBALL: ‘Cats rally to top Hazel Green 57-48, advance to Regional Finals

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The Bearcats celebrate after defeating Hazel Green Friday and advancing to the Northwest Regional Finals. (Martha Needham/The Cullman Tribune)

HANCEVILLE, Ala. – The Cullman Bearcats were back in action Friday afternoon at Tom Drake Coliseum, battling Hazel Green for a spot in the Northwest Regional Finals. It was a rocky first half for the black & gold and they trailed the Trojans 27-25 at the break, but they adjusted on both ends in the second half and rallied to top Hazel Green 57-48. With the win, the Bearcats will advance to the Elite 8 for just the third time in school history. Cullman Head Coach Stu Stuedeman was proud of the way his team adjusted after the first quarter and continued to chip away at the Trojans until they got an opportunity to pull away late.

“I always tell them that common people can’t do what uncommon people do and they’re just a team of uncommon people. They just beat a really good basketball team that provided a lot of mismatches for us, and they did it because they competed. They competed for all 32 minutes. They never got done and they kept coming and kept coming,” Stuedeman said. “We always talk about chopping the leg. Just keep chopping their leg and sooner or later that leg will break, and we’ll knock them out. I think we figured it out when we stopped throwing them the ball in the second and third quarter and we were able to figure it out on defense.”

Tucker Cagle drained a jumper from the top of the key to tie the game at 2 at the start of the opening period and Tucker Gambrill finished an and-one play at the line on the next possession to put Cullman in front 5-4. Max Gambrill drilled a three to keep the ‘Cats ahead 8-6 and Garrison Sharpe dropped in a running floater midway through the first to make it 10-8. However, the Trojans made things difficult the rest of the period, creating turnovers, outrebounding the Bearcats and pulling ahead 21-13 by the end of the first quarter.

Sharpe laid one in, and Max Gambrill converted an and-one play to cut the lead to 23-18 early in the second. Max added two more free throws to make it a 25-20 game and Tucker Gambrill split a pair of foul shots to trim the lead to four with just under three minutes to play in the first half. Tucker knocked down two more free throws to make it a 3-point game with a minute remaining in the period and with less than a second on the clock, Tucker Apel was fouled on a three-point attempt and netted two more shots at the line to cut the lead down to 27-25 at the halftime break.

Baskets by Cagle and Apel tied things up at 29 early in the third quarter and Sam Duskin buried a trey to give the ‘Cats their first lead since the opening quarter at 32-31. Colton Echols scored inside to stretch the lead to 34-31 and Sharpe scored through a foul and added the free throw to make it 37-31 with just under three minutes remaining in the period. Cullman continued to smother the Trojans on the defensive end and the Bearcats went into the fourth leading Hazel Green 37-31. The ‘Cats outscored the Trojans 12-4 in the third.

Sharpe got the final period started with a three from the top of the key that made it a 40-31 game, but Hazel Green responded with a 9-0 run to tie things up at 40. Cagle scored down low to reclaim a 42-40 lead and Max Gambrill drilled a three from the left corner to give Cullman a 5-point lead with five minutes to play. The Bearcats were in complete control of the momentum after that, and Tucker Gambrill knocked down four straight from the free throw line to make it a 50-40 game with two minutes on the clock. Gambrill and Sharpe continued to do damage at the free throw line in the final two minutes and the Trojans were unable to answer on the other end, allowing the ‘Cats to pull away and collect a 57-48 win.

Sharpe led the way for Cullman with 14 points in the win. Tucker Gambrill finished with 12 and Cagle and Max Gambrill each posted 11. The Bearcats will be back at Tom Drake Coliseum to take on Scottsboro in the Northwest Regional Finals Tuesday at 2:15 p.m. with a trip to Birmingham on the line.

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